An example of a cantilever footbridge in Carrick-on-Shannon. One of the options will see something similar introduced in Athlone to allow a new cycle route cross the River Shannon at the existing town bridge.

Getting cycleway across shannon causing headache for the planners

Figuring out a way of getting cyclists across the River Shannon in Athlone is currently proving a challenge to the planners working on the east-west cycleway from Dublin to Galway.

But a decision on how that is to be achieved will have to be made in the next month, council director of services, Barry Kehoe, told members of the Planning and Transportation Strategic Policy Committee at their monthly meeting, in Mullingar.

Mr Kehoe explained that Westmeath County Council is project-managing the new cycleway from Maynooth to Galway.

Much of the work to Mullingar is already complete, with the stretch from the Meath border, close to the Hill of Down, to Coolnahay Bridge now requiring really only additional signage.

Work has begun on the construction of the section from Grange across to Garrycastle in Athlone, thanks to a €4m grant awarded earlier this year, Mr Kehoe continued, adding that they hope the 41km section will be finished by May.

The aim is also to have completed by May a section alongside the Royal Canal from Coolnahay to the Longford county boundary.

Mr Kehoe said that the council is carrying out its environmental impact survey for Athlone at the moment.

“We have been looking for nearly a year now for options to cross the Shannon in Athlone, and it’s proving very difficult to identify the best route. There is no easy route, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each, and it’s difficult to weigh up the best route,” he told the meeting.

“We need to have identified the most appropriate route within the next month,” he said, explaining that there is an urgency because of the council’s wish to begin work on the next stretch from the middle of next year.

Mr Kehoe said that the existing routes don’t have the capacity to accommodate the cycleway.

“There’s really only one bridge in town, and it can’t cope with what’s coming over it, and we’re looking at the possibility of widening that bridge,” he stated.

However, he continued, there would really have to be a new bridge over the Shannon.

“We can’t provide the services we’re required to without building a new bridge,” he stated.

Cllr Tom Farrell asked who will market the cycleway when it is complete, to which Mr Kehoe replied that Bord Fáilte and Tourism Ireland will be preparing a branding strategy and Bord Fáilte would market it in Ireland, and Tourism Ireland would market it abroad.

However, Mr Kehoe continued, it would not be possible to begin marketing the project internationally until it has been fully completed.

In response to a query by Cllr Paul Daly as to whether there would be a link made between the cycleway, and a new cycle route being developed between Kilbeggan and Ballycommon, Mr Kehoe said the council is in talks with Offaly County Council. Committee chairman, Cllr Peter Burke, spoke of hopes to have links created between the two lakes and also to have a trail at Belvedere House.

He also spoke of how, abroad, a feature of such routes is stopping off-points, and villages featuring traditional-style signage, and places to get refreshments.